Google Maps has come a long way since it launched in 2005. It now offers street-level views across most of the globe and even powers a gaming platform that allows developers to build games set in the real world. With the present and future covered, Google’s looking to the past with a project called rǝ. The browser-based tool goes all the way back to 1800 to offer neighborhood renders across the past 200 years. As more people work on the database, buildings will get more realistic renders, providing stunning street and aerial views, and the ability to see how urban spaces have developed over time.
How does it work? — The basis for the maps is incredibly accurate because the generic buildings are created using fire insurance maps. These old maps provide detailed information about building dimensions, age, roof shapes, and even materials, according to Fast Company. The project was three years in the making, but it was originally announced as a part of Kartta Labs in September. Kartta Labs mixes a temporal map server with crowdsourced info like maps and building photos as well as the 3D end-user experience. The project leverages AI models to recognize windows, doors, etc. and produce faithful renders.
As a Black queer person, time traveling to the past has never been of any hypothetical or literal interest. As a fan of architecture and urban planning, however, this virtual TARDIS offers a much-needed glimpse into historical transformations. So far, renders of Chelsea in Manhattan provide the best example of how this tool can assist historians, game developers, and filmmakers alike.
As people contribute to the project with anything from old building plans to photos, street views transform into more realistic representations.
As more artifacts are unearthed, our picture of the past is expected to come into even clearer focus.